The Chasm - Buachaille Etive Mor

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Chris McDaid - 23/09/2003

In the interests of exploring our mountain heritage and taking advantage of the glorious weather, Allan Wallace and myself decided to attempt The Chasm, the huge cleft splitting the Etive flank of Stob Dearg. We both have had a very productive early season rock climbing, each consistently leading E1 with the occasional E2 thrown in, so we were right up for it. Having successfully roped the unsuspecting Alan Pert into the fray, we left the central belt on Sunday 10th August at around 1.30 am due to work commitments. We arrived in Glen Etive at 3 am, promptly threw up the tent and bedded down for a few hours. We awoke to our portable alarm clock's awful bleeping noise at 7.30 (an early start was decided on as none of us had ever been on the route before). So much for the glorious weather!! A ground level heavy mist meant we couldn't even see the mountain, far less the route. No matter, we came to climb The Chasm and climb it we would.

First mistake and only mistake of the day soon followed. Due to the poor visibility, we went up the wrong bloody gully! After discovering our mistake, we traversed round and abseiled into The Chasm just above the first chockstone pitch. At this point Alan Pert decided to bail out as he wasn't feeling up to it and he felt he would hold us back. The time was now 11 am, the sun was shining, so we decided we better get the finger out. Roped up, Allan set about leading our first pitch (the Red Slab). No real problems here, apart from me parting company with the rock due to a detachable handhold. My lead now, traversing up into the watercourse and getting refreshed by the spray billowing around me, then crossing the stream up to the next level section. Everything was going nicely and according to plan.

A few easy pitches which we soloed brought us to the Hundred Foot pitch. What a spot! A huge free falling waterfall pouring down the impressive split walls of the gully. The rock scenery was now really beginning to live up to expectations. Allan's lead here and he cruised up the right wall in fine style only to find some difficulty finding an acceptable belay before bringing me up. Now were on the Piano pitch (I have no idea at all why it has such a descriptive name). Traversing alongside the watercourse without any difficulty until I reached the crux move of the pitch, a very precarious rock over type move onto a sloping chockstone, which was overcome with the aid of a very deep breath. The small pool mentioned in the guidebook was there, although it could hardly be called "beckoning". Time for lunch.

A few short pitches were soloed and then we came to the Converging Walls. Another stunning spot characterised by a deep chimney complete with a big chockstone added to by a fine waterfall pouring down the back of the cleft. My lead, so off I went up the ramp into the chimney. So far I had only managed to place one dodgy wire, despite searching extensively. Oh well, nothing for it but to go for it. Managed to bridge up the chimney to the chockstone where I clipped some old abseil tat for protection and continued on the most atmospheric and intimidating looking climbing I've ever done. Absolutely sensational! The exit from the chimney was fairly straightforward but very exposed. Completed the pitch, about 35m, with 3 bits of pro and an extremely dodgy belay. Dodgy belays seemed to be a recurring theme. I suspect Allan had an enjoyable rest sitting on the chockstone!

We were now in a huge open amphitheatre where the rock architecture was breathtaking. There are three branches of the gully at this point, the central one being the line of The Chasm. Allan led up a distinctly damp section before disappearing out of sight. After what seemed too long, he shouted down for me to follow. I soon discovered what had taken him so long - the worst possible belay of the day! It was so bad (one cam in a poor placement), that once I reached a reasonably safe stance on a small pedestal, Allan decided that he was going to lead on in the hope of finding a more substantial belay. This achieved, the pitch passed without further incident. Following this, a short but greasy pitch was easily overcome.

Now we had reached the Devil's Cauldron (made infamous by Borthwick's classic Always A Little Further). Another superb spot with a level floor looking up improbable walls on both sides complete with obligatory stream pouring down the gully. Allan decided to have a go at the Direct finish but was soon repulsed by no gear placements and the ever present threat of a slip caused by the constant flow of the stream. Plan B came into operation and he successfully led the South Wall but not without a few hairy moments on the damp rock. Evidence of an epic was passed in the shape of two camming devices left behind in a hurry, complete with slings attached. We topped out to the traditional Glencoe finish of a full scale Midgie assault. Packed our gear away quickly and hightailed it down to the Glen Etive road. The obligatory pint in the Kingshouse was well deserved.

We both agreed it was a superb route on a glorious day. Potential suitors should be aware that it is a very serious route, taking us about 7/8 hrs. Technically the VS grade is about right, although the intimidation factor caused by long run outs, poor gear placements and hard to find decent belays is considerable. Also beware that some of the traverses are very difficult to protect for the second. This is amplified by loose rock, damp rock and sometimes downright saturated rock!! All in all, a great adventure for anyone who is comfortably leading E1/HVS and has competent rope handling skills. As far as we are concerned, it is a MUST DO route. For an all round mountain day experience, The Chasm is surely hard to beat. One of our best mountain days ever.

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